PPARs were originally identified in Xenopus frogs as receptors that induce the proliferation of peroxisomes in cells.
The first PPAR (PPARα) was discovered during the search of a molecular target for a group of agents then referred to as peroxisome proliferators, as they increased peroxisomes in rodent liver tissue, apart from improving insulin sensitivity. These agents, pharmacologically related to the fibrates were discovered in the early 1980s. When it turned out that PPARs played a much more versatile role in biology, the agents were in turn termed PPAR ligands. The best-known PPAR ligands are the thiazolidinediones; see below for more details.
After PPARδ (delta) was identified in humans in 1992, it turned out to be closely-related to the PPARβ (beta) previously described during the same year in other animals (Xenopus). The name PPARδ is generally used in the US, whereas the use of the PPARβ denomination has remained in Europe where this receptor was initially discovered in Xenopus.
All PPARs heterodimerize with the retinoid X receptor (RXR) and bind to specific regions on the DNA of target genes. These DNA sequences are termed PPREs (peroxisome proliferator hormone response elements). The DNA consensus sequence is AGGTCAXAGGTCA, with X being a random nucleotide. In general, this sequence occurs in the promotor region of a gene, and, when the PPAR binds its ligand, transcription of targets genes are increased or decreased, depending on the gene. The RXR also forms a heterodimer with a number of other receptors (e.g., vitamin D and thyroid hormone).
The function of PPARs is modified by the precise shape of their ligand-binding domain (see below) induced by ligand binding and by a number of coactivator and corepressor proteins, the presence of which can stimulate or inhibit receptor function, respectively.
Endogenous ligands for the PPARs include free fatty acids and eicosanoids. PPARγ is activated by PGJ2 (a prostaglandin). In contrast, PPARα is activated by leukotriene B4.
The three main forms are transcribed from different genes:
Hereditary disorders of all PPARs have been described, generally leading to a loss in function and concomitant lipodystrophy, insulin resistance, and/or acanthosis nigricans. Of PPARγ, a gain-of-function mutation has been described and studied (Pro12Ala) which decreased the risk of insulin resistance; it is quite prevalent (allele frequency 0.03 - 0.12 in some populations). In contrast, pro115gln is associated with obesity. Some other polymorphisms have high incidence in populations with elevated body mass indexes.
As with other nuclear receptors, PPARs are modular in structure and contain the following functional domains:
A third class of "balanced" or "pan" PPAR ligands, which bind two or more PPAR isoforms, are currently under active investigation for treatment of a larger subset of the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome. These include the experimental compounds muraglitazar and tesaglitazar. In addition, there is continuing research and development of new PPAR modulators for additional therapeutic indications.
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